The Kansas Jayhawks looked like anything but the reigning national champions in their preseason exhibition contest versus Pittsburg State. A sluggish defensive start and ice-cold effort on the offensive end even led to a 21-6 Gorillas lead to start the game.
But that slow start became just a minor speed bump for the Jayhawks on Thursday night, who soared to a 94-63 win in their lone tune-up game in 2022.
KU’s new-look starting lineup, a stark change from the group that cut down the nets in New Orleans back in April, looked rusty on both ends to open the contest. While the Gorillas got out to their aforementioned 15-point advantage, the Jayhawks began the game just 3-of-13 shooting from the field and 0-of-6 from three-point range.
“It just felt like we couldn’t miss,” Pitt State junior forward Deshaun English said, adding: “It was a great feeling just to be able to play in this arena and to get off to a start like that”
For Kansas junior forward Jalen Wilson, though, who was a key part of KU’s historic comeback in the National Championship Game, the early struggles weren’t a major concern.
“We’ve been down before in bigger games than this,” Wilson said.
A furious 14-0 run midway through the first half shifted all the game’s momentum, however, with full-court pressure, a three-pointer and an increased activity level turning the tide for coach Bill Self’s group.
The Jayhawks went into halftime with a five-point advantage at 39-34 and never looked back.
Led by a game-high 23 points from Wilson and 20 more from freshman guard Gradey Dick, Kansas shot 66.7% for the second half and cruised to its 31-point victory.
Along with Wilson and Dick, senior guard Kevin McCullar also broke double figures for KU, tacking on 13 points in his first game since transferring from Texas Tech.
“We were down early but we didn’t panic, we didn’t fold,” McCullar said in regard to coming back from the early deficit, adding: “[We] fed off the energy from the crowd.”
As a team, the Jayhawks shot 55.7% from the field for the game and 40% from three-point range, even after their dreadful offensive start.
Pitt State’s game high belonged to English, who poured in 14 points. This was also a return to Allen Fieldhouse for Gorillas coach Jeff Boschee, who’s in his first year at Pitt State and played at Kansas from 1998-2002.
While Self’s attention was on the game Thursday night, the bigger and more important story long-term is the impending suspension he and assistant coach Kurtis Townsend are facing in connection with the NCAA’s infractions case against the KU program.
Self said that while he doesn’t like that he’s going to miss games, he was privy to discussions about the sanctions and is in lock step with KU’s plans.
“From a responsibility standpoint, the institution clearly showed institutional responsibility in what went down,” Self said.
Self went on to add that while he doesn’t know if these sanctions will bring Kansas closer to the end of its ordeal with the IARP and the NCAA, he does know that the process has been weighing on the program since it began five years ago.
While Self and Townsend are out, longtime assistant Norm Roberts will take over as acting head coach for the first four games of the regular season. Self pointed to Roberts’ tenure as the head coach of St. Johns in the Big East as an example of why he knows he’ll be able to handle different responsibilities over the next few weeks, and joked about his players possibly being happy that they’ll hear a different voice off the bench for those games.
“Our players need to make the most out of it, and they will,” Self said.
Wilson, again keeping an even keel, said he thinks the Jayhawks will come together and stay strong despite the situation they’re going through to open the regular season.
“We’ve been a team that’s been through a lot of adversity, even last year with my situation,” Wilson said, “It won’t change, we’ve got a great coaching staff and a great circle.”
KU will open the regular season Monday night at home against Omaha. Tip for that game is scheduled for 7:00 p.m.
Click below to hear from Bill Self and the Jayhawks following KU’s 94-63 exhibition win over Pittsburg State.